How to Use Your Network to Understand Your Restaurant Better

    Location-based services can offer a wealth of information.

    Table of different restuarant dishes.
    Unsplash/Go to Court Cook
    Understanding customer behavior and traffic patterns in general empower restaurant owners to respond with contextual and time-based offers, menu tweaks, and promotions.

    In today's highly competitive restaurant industry, every decision counts when it comes to optimizing the business. The use of technology within a restaurant is often focused around providing solid WiFi and ensuring that point-of-sale (POS) technologies are efficient, with more advanced restaurants incorporating mobile applications, digital signage and even interactive kiosks into their operations. 

    Location-based services, however, can offer a wealth of information to help restaurant owners better understand their business. By tapping into the network, owners can learn more about the restaurant and use this information to make better decisions, drive more foot traffic to stores, and improve operational efficiency, customer engagement and ultimately the top and bottom lines.

    Location-based services (LBS) have been around for some time, but current advances in technology and ease-of-use have made them more attractive to the restaurant industry. With LBS technologies, restaurant owners can track foot traffic, monitor congestion levels and even predict which days and times will be busiest. Armed with this information, owners can make more informed decisions about staffing, menu items, promotions, and more, giving them better insights on customer share-of-wallet and the ability to enhance brand intimacy.

    Ways Location-Based Services Can Help

    Some of the top applications of LBS technologies today include:

    Foot Traffic—Foot traffic is a crucial metric for any restaurant owner. By tracking foot traffic with LBS, it becomes easy to see which days and times are busiest, and which aren’t, and adjust staffing levels accordingly. For example, if the data shows the restaurant is busiest on Friday nights, more wait staff could be scheduled. Or, if during weekday lunchtime hours data shows the restaurant as being consistently busy, the owner could decide to offer meal specials at other times of the day to attract more customers during those times and take the pressure off of the lunchtime staff.

    Congestion Levels—Closely related to foot traffic, LBS can also help restaurant owners analyze congestion owners within the storefront. Traffic analysis can also indicate what areas of the restaurant are the busiest and where customers tend to congregate. If certain areas are overloaded, or underused, perhaps a reorganization is needed to better lay out tables, chairs or entry and exit points to different sections. For example, if patrons stand in certain areas at the bar, maybe by the bartender or the television(s) in the bar, adjustments could be made to their locations to better spread out traffic, or seating could be reduced to allow groups to spread out.

    Customer Behavior—Understanding customer behavior and traffic patterns in general empower restaurant owners to respond with contextual and time-based offers, menu tweaks, and promotions. Offerings could be customized to the preferences of specific customers, or menus could be limited to key dishes during busy or even slow hours. Specials and promotions could be implemented that take advantage of busy times and encourage customers to purchase more, or can be set for off-hours, to ease the stress on wait staff and chefs.

    Security—Monitoring and analyzing customer behavior patterns can also help to enhance restaurant security. Are customers getting in the way of wait staff? Are there too many patrons inside at one time? Are fire exits being left unencumbered? Are there any blind spots or areas that need to be re-secured to keep customers out of? At what time of day/night should cameras and other utilities be turned on or off? With LBS-based data, more informed decisions can be made about all of the above.

    How to Get Started

    In order to implement LBS, restaurant WiFi networks need to have strong connectivity that delivers the best in-restaurant service possible for customers. If customers or staff have complained about connectivity in the past, or if there have been instances of continued lag or downtime, then that’s a sign that upgrades will need to be made before considering the rollout of any LBS. 

    If this is the case, when evaluating new solutions and partners, be sure that any network solution will cover the three most important aspects for a restaurant: (1) delivering reliable access for customers and employees; (2) establishing a high-performance WAN with backup connectivity in case of outages; and (3) ensuring that operations are simplified and efficient so network administrators or a partner can manage operations easily. The incorporation of artificial intelligence (AI) tools to the network management system can help speed discovery and resolution time when there is an outage.

    When it comes time to add LBS to the network, there are a variety of technologies and data analysis packages and tools out there that are effective and easy to implement. These include beacons, sensors, GPS-based tools and Wi-Fi triangulation solutions. Any data analysis software package should also be easy to manage and incorporate real-time data-driven dashboards that let owners quickly understand key metrics of customer behavior and restaurant congestion. These tools will make it easy to better understand and forecast demand and to optimize staffing levels as needed.

    In today's competitive restaurant industry, a little information goes a long way. Tracking both customer location and activity will help owners make more informed decisions about staffing, promotions, offerings and even floor layout. Getting started with LBS is relatively easy, and there are several software packages available that can help analyze the data generated by the system. By leveraging the restaurant’s network and implementing LBS, restaurant owners can gain a competitive edge—something especially critical given the current state of the economy, where every customer dollar counts.

    Todd Nicholson is the Director of Vertical Marketing at Juniper Networks. He is responsible for leading vertical go to market strategy in Juniper’s target industry verticals. Key responsibilities include market development, sales enablement, demand generation and vertical product solutions. Todd has an extensive 25+ year tech industry background working in executive level sales, marketing, and product management roles for small emerging startups and large enterprise IT industry leaders including IBM, EMC, and Gartner.